Monday, September 29, 2008

The Dream In the Beginning: Part One

Prickly Pear Cactus & Snag

I stepped out of the airport into a brilliant white light that I hadn't seen all winter long back in Iowa. Sunlight. I quickly shed my jacket and stuffed into my already bulging duffel bag containing all my gear for the next month and made my way off the runway and into a small building representing the international airport of Flagstaff, Arizona. It felt good to be free of the 'canned' air that I had been breathing most of the day. As convenient as they are, I just can't adapt to flying through the air in a hollowed out aluminum tube at 500 miles per hour breathing heavily conditioned air. After all, I was a mountain man and mountain men weren't supposed to be riding in airplanes but rather going on wild dory boat journeys down the entire length of the Grand Canyon.

Being unfamiliar with the airport there, I waited for a half hour in the hot sun outside the only set of doors at the taxi sign before it occurred to me that traffic might be so light that one wasn't going to come unless I called. I wandered back inside, found a phone and surprisingly enough, a phonebook so that I could dial myself a ride. A yellow taxi showed up a half hour later and I threw my gear into the back of the cab before we headed off for a motel on the other side of town. After a while, the cabbie broke the silence by asking me what brought myself to town. In the best John Wesley Powell/mountain man/explorer/adventurer voice that I could muster I told him that I was spending a month boating down the Colorado River in a wooden dory boat. It didn't get the response that I had expected and in fact drew no response at all. Silence prevailed for the rest of the taxi ride.

Down the River by Edward Abbey was perhaps the second or third book I read of his. I remember being fascinated by it and asking my father about the Colorado River only to learn that he had been down it on one of the huge rubber rafts when he was younger. He didn't remember much of the trip and couldn't answer many of my questions but my fate was sealed and I knew that someday I was going to have to boat down the river in a wooden dory boat. Abbey made it sound as if that was the only way to float down the river and after having done so, I couldn't agree more with him on the issue. So the years went by as I grew up and went to college all the while scheming that before I got a real job, I would take a wooden dory boat journey down what was left of the Colorado River between the Boulder and Glen Canyon dams.

Towards the end of my college career my planning started getting serious. I did some research and learned that the outfit Abbey took, Grand Canyon Dories was still in business. They offered several different versions of the trip and after much research; I elected to take the first trip of the season in April for a couple different reasons. The wildflowers would be blooming and the temperatures would be relatively mild compared to the oven baking temperatures regularly seen during early summer in the bottom of the canyon. The temperatures during the middle of summer are simply unfathomable. Second and perhaps most importantly, the first trip in April was allowed to depart a full two weeks before the rafting outfitters could begin allowing us to have the river to ourselves. I could take any of three different parts of the trip but decided on doing all three segments and one upping myself by taking the extended version which was three days longer than the regular version giving more time to hike. However two things stopped me in my tracks. One was that the waiting list for that trip was over a yearlong and that it required a staggering amount of money that I as a self-financed college student who was finishing up his fifth year of college didn't have. With just over one hundred dollars to my name and a car that held all my worldly possessions, I accepted a job immediately after graduation and sulked up to Minnesota with my dream put on hold.

I didn't forget about the trip completely and even half-heartedly negotiated being able to take a month off from work to do the trip after I had saved up the required time. It took several long years to do so and like a kid the night before Christmas, it was slow time. With no assets to start a life post college, I scrimped and saved, living on as little as I could comfortably do to accumulate the necessary funds to book a spot on a trip. Whenever I wanted to splurge by eating out instead of cooking in, I kept a picture of a wooden dory boat with a man half crouching in the middle looking down the gullet of a monstrous wave where I could see it. After two long year, with my vacation days calculated and a cold sweat breaking out at the thought of spending such a large amount of money, I finally made the call a year and a half in advance and booked myself on the first wooden dory trip. I was the first person on the list and there was no backing out.


R. Sherman said...

I'm looking forward to all the entries in this series.


Ed Abbey said...

R. Sherman - This is one series that I'm really looking forward to going back and exploring. It will be my third attempt, the first being my actual journal and the other version on my previous blog. I've always felt there was a lot more there that has always wanted to come out.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Hey I've an idea, a great one, why don't you start building ME a kayak and I'll take you down the Columbia River? I have no wait list you know! haha JUST KIDDING :)

I've to say that was interesting. And more stories please :)

PS: I was looking at Eddyline Kayak on Sat, making a hard decision not to spend a few grands to get it now. But boy, I do want to get it someday and head down to Lake Powell immediately.

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - What a coincidence that you bring up this subject. I have made a woodstrip kayak that I'm just in the process of selling. The buyer is coming to pick it up tonight. However, it is a sea going of flatwater kayak and there would be no way I would put in on the Colorado unless I had a death wish.

More stories are in the future. I spent a couple hours this weekend scanning and processing photos to post with the write-ups.

Murf said...

Will you be reposting that one of you in the distance wearing your purple shirt? :-)

Ed Abbey said...

I don't remember that one but if I come across it again when I'm rewriting stuff, I'll keep you in mind.

The Real Mother Hen said...

How much did you sell that for? I did think about going to the Strip-built Kayak Class but figured that I'm way to clumsy to build such thing :(

The Real Mother Hen said...

Oh yes, do you have a picture of your woodstrip kayak? Send me if you could and let me drool! In all seriousness, I genuinely admire the craftsmanship and the beauty of small wooden boat.

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - It isn't skills intensive to build but it does require a lot of patience. I do have some old photos and a blog post on my old blog. I'll have to dig them up someday. I used this book to get plans and instructions on how to build one. It cost me probably $700 to build back in the day and I'm selling it for $300. Mostly the price is so cheap because my fiberglassing job wasn't the greatest and it has developed some blisters as a result of being stored outside. It needs to be resanded and refiberglassed, a lot of work. I used it quite a bit and really enjoyed it but I hope it will make someone happier than just getting weathered underneath my deck. I hope to the buyer will take it off my hands tonight.

R. Sherman said...

Mother Hen, excuse my intrusion on the kayak conversation, but I say "bugger building" and just get a decent touring boat, i.e. a Perception Carolina. Enough room for about 4 days worth of stuff and you can arrange for supply drops on the route.


sage said...

Ed, I got to get your new link back on my blog---as I'm late to this conversation. I too am looking forward to your story, since I never paddled the Grand (although I have hiked in it). We're not going to find you with Renny Russell as a guide, are we? Did you get his book, and if so will you be reviewing it?

The Real Mother Hen said...

$300 is a good price. I would probably get it from you too if you were in this town. IA is a bit far you know :)

The book you mentioned has a stunning kayak on the cover - that is a REAL beauty isn't it? The elegant craftsmanship alone is enough to melt my soul.

Ed Abbey said...

R. Sherman - For shear utility, I would get a sea kayak similar to yours. However, if I were looking to impress the pants off someone, you have to build you a woodstrip version of the Giullemot Expedition. I recommend Cedar and Redwood.

Sage - The Colorado really wasn't too bad and anyone with some basic whitewater paddling skills could do it in a kayak. Hance rapids is one of the exceptions that I can think of but it could easily be portaged. Most of the others always had an easy route through the shallow waters of an inside bend.

I did get Renny's book but still have other reading committments ahead of it. I'll be sure to let you know what I think of it when I finish it.

Mother Hen - $300 was a good price but if it made someone happy who would use it more than I could, it was worth selling it to them. Mine once looked like the cover, perhaps better is I say so myself, but time had aged it prematurely due to a mistake I made. I'm planning a post on that at the end of the week or early next week.